December 11th, 2015
Nearly two hours before the 7 p.m. curtain, local folks lined up for the Royal Hawaiian Band’s first holiday concert Thursday (Dec. 10) at Hawaii Theatre.
The queue snaked around the theater, from the box office on Bethel Street, along Hotel Street, up Nuuanu Avenue, and snuggling Pauahi Street nearly back to the front entrance.
So naturally, the house was jammed — the show was free, no tickets required, and between 1,200 to 1,300 fans of the band assembled, certainly including first-timers to the theater and newbies to the RHB. Which thrilled maestro Clarke Bright, of course, as well as Hawaii Theatre president Ruth Bolan, who was all smiles with the sense of community within the historical theater.
The hometowners applauding the homegrown band with roots linked to King Kamehameha III and Hawaiian royalty…that’s magical.
- The Royal Hawaiian Band is hugely underrated. Known primarily for its marching parades and informal concerts, it’s merrily festive and supreme as a Christmastime attraction.
- Corral a few island troupers with their own following — comedian Frank DeLima, songstress Karen Keawehawaii, and Jerry Santos of the incomparable Olomana group — and you have a socko cast. Throw in keiki — Kamehameha Schools Children’s Chorus and a hula halau, Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha’ehae’e — and there’s vast interest and variety, the chorus kids charming not only in voices but in faces, a hearty brew of next-generation performers and the halau demonstrating that culture is worth performing and perpetuating. And tap RHB regulars Malia Ka’ai, she of the operatic voice; Gary Keawe Aiko, the son of Genoa Keawe, thus rooted in credible Hawaii tradition; and Pi’ilaniwahine Smith, the hula soloist who is the daughter of kumu hula Alicia Smith; and you’re talking lifelong stewards of cultural preservation.
- The partnership of the City and County of Honolulu, the Royal Hawaiian Band Music Society, and the Hawaii Theatre Center enabled the performance to be free, a splendid Christmas present to the community. The fact that the place was packed to the hilt indicates the grand gesture was a hit, and the attendance was validation for the presenters. A win-win for all.
- For the bandmaster and the band members alike, a holiday gig like this meant the musical menu would be a mixed bag, to suit palettes of all kinds. And yep, the gang succeeded — holiday orchestral favorites tempered with classical strains; cultural expansion including something Russian, something cinematic (a “Star Wars” medley, complete with Storm Troopers and more, in anticipation of this winter’s film biggie, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”) Indeed, the force is with the band.
The band utilized all the elements the Hawaii Theatre provides: entrances and exits via the stage pit, prances and dances in the aisles, and the cherry on the cake: a house sound system geared for concerts, compared to the open-air dynamics of a park show or a parade. On this note, the band was at its best, with swirls of the subtle as well as blasts of the robust — every trick possible. Loved the chimes, loved the jingling bells, loved the rich, full sounds.
The acts benefitted, too; when was the last time you heard a keiki chorus accompanied by a 40-plus unit with all the frills of flutes, the toots of trumpets, French horns and trombones, the gentle riffs of clarinets and the syncopation of percussions. And more. Made “Hallelujah Chorus” a rouser, resulting in a spontaneous standing ovation! (It helped that Lynnel Bright, conductor of the Kamehameha kids, is the spouse of bandmaster Clarke — nothing like partnerships in the ‘ohana). And even Jerry Santos opined that it was pleasure and a treasure to have the accompaniment of the musicians on two of his classics, “Seabird” and “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u,” yielding a panorama of support and waves of nostalgic emotions. Further, Santos’ senior viewpoint was a natural fit for his protégé-partner Kamuela Kimokeo, a singer-guitarist and for all practical purposes, the young mate in the age-diverse Olomana of the present. And yes, it was savvy for Santos to include his hula soloist Nalani Badua-Fernandes in his trio of island tunes.
DeLima provided funny fodder, like his inimitable “Filipino Christmas,” complete with a tree costume glistening with lights, and parodies of and salutes to Marcus Mariota and Bruno Mars; he’s mastered the manner of taking popular tunes and making ‘em his own with a new posture and lyrics, and his Portuguese jokes never fail him.
Keawehawai’i perhaps had the evening’s most difficult task, likely assigned to deliver tunes that were not her signature like her peers in the cast. Still, the pro that she is, Keawehawai’i updated “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Hawaiian Fa-La-La!” with her own imprint, with a rollicking posture and a vocal force that sounded like it was fresh from the North Pole. At least her daughter’s (Tracie Lopes) halau made it a family affair with hula on “Fa-La-La!”
Denby Dung vacated her clarinet chair in the band to emcee the show, delivering cheerful intros to the acts and enabled her to do some comedy in the “Star Wars” segment, complete with Princess Leia-like doughnut rolls on both sides of her hair.
It was nice to see both Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Gov. David Ige and their spouses on opposite ends of a sector loaded with city council members and administrators. And the Ron Bright ‘ohana, now led by widow Mo Bright, numbered 18 and were generous in applause and goodwill for No. 1 son Clarke’s role in the evening of holiday enchantment.
So, the Royal Hawaiian Band legacy continues. And sounds like Hawaii Theatre’s honcho Bolan wants to make this gift an annual treat. As one of the ushers said, “This is the first time since Jim Nabors’ Christmas concerts that the house is packed.” Hallelujah!